The Barenaked Archives – Master and Commander

Master and Commander posterFrom 2003 up until 2007, I was lucky enough to have “movie reviewer” as my job description. As such, I’ve built up a *lot* of reviews for just about every movie that came out during those years, as well as reviews of classic movies.

The Barenaked Archives are reviews that I did for two previous websites. Sadly, they are both gone, so this is now the only place online you can see these old columns.

Well, ladies and gents, it’s that time of year again: after months of mindless, albeit entertaining popcorn movies, the major studios are rolling out their Oscar hopefuls, which means that we viewers finally get something to sink our teeth into. Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World heralds the return of award-digging movies to the theaters, and I have to say I’m quite happy about it.

Master and Commander is actually a 20-book series by Patrick O’Brian, chronicling the adventures of Capt. “Lucky” Jack Aubrey during the War of 1812. For the movie Master and Commander, though, the time period is changed to 1805, during the Napoleonic War.

Here, Capt. Aubrey (Russell Crowe) and his ship, the HMS Surprise, have been sent to the coast of Brazil looking for the French ship Acheron. However, the Acheron finds them first, and the Surprise barely escapes intact. Thus begins a dangerous game of cat-and-mouse that spans both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.

I won’t lie; it took me a while to get into the movie. I almost didn’t even realize it when I did. The Acheron attacks the Surprise barely 10 minutes into the movie, as director Peter Weir skips over the requisite character development most movies have for the first 20 minutes or so.

Rather, it’s after the attack that you get to know the ship’s crew, how they feel about one another and how they feel about their captain. Boys who can’t have even hit puberty yet were on the crew, and perhaps one of the best performances of the film goes to Max Pirkis, who plays Blakeney, a very young midshipman who loses his arm after the first battle. (If you’ve seen the trailers, he’s the little blond-haired kid.)

The movie doesn’t romanticize life in the British navy during those times. It was hard, it was dangerous, and Master and Commander shows that.

This film is very, very well made. It took three studios (Fox, Miramax, and Universal) to produce it, and I have to say they spent their money well. Having never been a huge fan of Russell Crowe, I now understand why so many people are. He’s the kind of actor that you can honestly believe as any character he plays.

The same goes for Paul Bettany, who plays the ship’s doctor and Aubrey’s best friend, Stephen Maturin. They are both very talented, and there’s a chemistry between them that adds to the friendship between Aubrey and Maturin.

People who don’t care for historical movies or for films without any romantic subplot whatsoever probably will not care very much to see Master and Commander. But for me, it was quite a treat to watch and seemed to flow in a different vein from most of the other movies that I’ve seen lately. This was a welcome change. Its realism and drama help to immerse you into the world of naval battle during the early 1800s, and is well worth the two hours spent in the theater.

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One comment on “The Barenaked Archives – Master and Commander

  1. Paul says:

    That they never made a sequel to this remains one of the great movie disappointments of the last decade for me. You noted how much it took to get the film made, and while it was successful at the box office, it apparently did not do well enough to warrant a follow-up. I am dying to own this film on blu-ray, but the version that Fox released is completely bereft of the excellent extras that were present on the Collector’s Edition DVD.

    Absent the “recruiting the team” segment, the film follows the classic men on a mission template – a more or less faceless enemy where the tension amongst the team is the true antagonist. In a film with so many great characters, one of the most affecting (and disturbing) storylines was the luckless midshipman and the whole “Jonah” sequence. And “ditto” on the Max Pirkis props. One of the reasons I took interest in “Rome” was because I discovered that Pirkis was going to be in it, and I wanted to see more of his work after being so surprised by his performance in M&C!

    Finally, if you ever want to have some fun at Russell Crowe’s expense, take a few minutes to sit back and enjoy the South Park episode, “The New Terrance and Phillip Movie Trailer”.

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